The word spread fast that Safe Ride, a ride service on Friday and Saturday nights for Darien teens, was in danger of coming to an end in April after being available for 30 years unless at least three parents stepped up to the plate.
As of 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 15, about 15 parents had expressed an interest in helping keep the program alive, according to Janice Marzano, the Darien Depot program director. The program is run out of the Depot but is overseen by the Darien Youth Council.
"We knew this was going to be happening," said Marzano about the initial lack of support.
The program needs three parents in leadership positions to stay afloat.
"As we were trying to turn it over to people, it just wasn't happening," Weiker said. A press release was sent out to the local media and once the story appeared, responses started to pour in.
"Now I'm not so worried about it," Weiker said. "It's interesting that you have to push something and then people show up."
Within the week, Weiker and Duwan will host an informational session for the new crop of interested parents. Weiker will stay on to help with the transition of the parent volunteers.
The program, which was founded in 1982, was the first of its kind in the country. It came to fruition following several teenage deaths involving alcohol-related accidents. Since the program's inception, there have been no alcohol-related deaths from car accidents among Darien High School students.
Darien Safe Rides is a program designed to provide a free and confidential ride home to any student who is not in a condition to drive safely or to any student who wants to avoid being a passenger in such a situation, according to Marzano.
Its stated purpose is to provide safe, reliable and confidential transportation for high school students from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights during the school year. It is organized and operated primarily by the students, with adult supervision, and currently has approximately 100 student volunteers fielding approximately five to 15 calls per night.
If the program ended, it would be incredibly difficult to bring it back.
"Once it's gone, it's gone," Marzano said. "We would have to renew insurance and a lot goes into that."
To some, the program may be a bit contentious, according to Marzano. On the outside, it would appear that it accepts and condones underage drinking, but Marzano feels that's not entirely the case.
"The majority of the phone calls aren't drunk kids," Marzano said. "They're kids whose parents went out for the night or went to the city and they are just getting a safe ride home."
But she understands why the program may be seen as a tolerance for underage drinking.
"Fifty percent of me says, yeah, it's promoting drinking, but the other 50 percent of me knows that we're saving lives," Marzano said.
Parents have monthly meetings with student officers to cover scheduling, compliance with Safe Rides rules and other issues that may arise. They also conduct meetings for parents and students and coordinate the receipt of documentation, such as licenses, insurance and parent approvals.
Darien Safe Rides is also a program that has the potential for changing attitudes about driving while drinking; students' concern for one another's safety leads to greater appreciation of both the risks and responsibilities associated with driving while impaired.
"It's a fantastic program," Marzano said. "It would be stupid to lose."
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